A cultural identity
The cultivation of sugar cane on Madeira island goes back to the beginnings of colonization and it was so important that we can say that its a part of the genetic structure of the Madeira people.
From very early it was noticed that this garden of Eden located in the middle of the Atlantic had exceptional conditions for the planting of sugarcane. According to history, the king Infante D. Henrique was the responsible for the introduction of the sugar cane in Madeira Island in 1425, 6 years after the Island was discovered. It is said that the first sugar canes sent to Madeira Island were from Sicily.
This decision attribute to our island a strategic importance in the route of the migration of sugarcane. Not only did it marked the transition of the cultivation of sugar cane from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the New World (the Americas) but served effectively and literally as an exporting platform for a set of techniques, technologies and socio-economic development models that have their genesis in Madeira.
Ideal conditions of production
In addition to the rich forests, which provided the raw material for the construction of sugar mills and firewood to feed the furnaces, Madeira Island also offered a mild climate, excellent sun exposure on the slopes facing south and abundant water for the irrigation of sugarcane plantations and water powered mills.
However, given the orographic characteristics and territorial insularity, it is also important to mention another fundamental point, the iron will of the first settlers! They were able to turn a very hard landscape into their advantage, that was only possible because of their strength of will, effort, sweat and dedication.
This was the only way to obtain the best harvest of sugarcane to which, once transported to sugar mills, the juice was extracted and subsequently transformed into sugar and other by-products such as honey or rhum.
The fulfillment of a dream
The first private water powered mill dates back to 1452.
The economic growth provided by the production of sugar was such that, at a certain point, the available agricole space was almost all destined for sugarcane plantations, a proof of this are the almost 1585 tons of sugar cane produced in 1510, this numbers will only be reached again in the second half of the nineteenth century when sugarcane plantations reach a second high and rhum gains a very important role.
In Madeira, the oldest known historic reference on the production of ” agoardente ” is from 1649.
The success of the implementation of sugar cane culture and construction of sugar mills in other Atlantic islands and in the New World had a perverse effect as it led to the decline of the sugar economy produced on Madeira Island. The sugar plantations were replaced by vineyards, marking a turning point in Madeira´s economy in favour of the development of the wine sector.
Madeira wine arouses the special interest of Anglo-Saxons who, in addition to other types of business, dedicate themselves intensively to the commercialization and export of this good. They are also the reason behind the transformation of the island into a tourist destination of excellence.